The Alexandria School Board voted last night to ask the state to reduce foreign language requirements for the new advanced high school diploma and to reduce math and science requirements for the regular diploma.
Board members cited both a need for "home rule" in deciding curriculum issues and the diminishing enrollment in elective courses among students who concentrate on fulfilling the increased course requirements for the new diplomas.
"The state has indicated they want us to have local autonomy," said Timothy Elliott, the board member sponsoring the proposal to drop the foreign language requirement for the advanced studies diploma from three years of study to two. "It's time we go to Richmond and hold their feet to the fire."
Many board members raised concerns about the 30 percent drop in enrollment in Alexandria's art and music courses over the past two years.
"It is a way to free up electives and show the state we intend to protest their encroachment on our decisions," said board member Sandra Lindsay.
T.C. Williams High School Student Council President Chris Farris told the board that his 12-member council overwhelmingly supported Elliott's proposal. "We think high school is a chance to get a taste of a little bit of everything. In college we can specialize."
The petition to the Virginia Board of Education to reduce the foreign language requirement for the advanced studies diploma passed 7 to 2, with members Lynnwood Campbell Jr., Elliott, Nelson Greene Jr., Rhonda Hill, Lindsay, Judy Feltz and Chairman Lou Cook voting in favor and Gene Lange and Mary Jane Nugent voting against.
The proposal to drop the third year math or science requirement for the regular diploma was made by Chairman Cook, who said the three-year requirement "confines" students into "mathematical or scientific straitjackets and will not make students more competent."
Gladys Pettiford, Alexandria's science curriculum specialist, urged a vote against the proposal, saying, "Today science is vital to our economy and the quality of our lives."
She said she believes three years of science or math are necessary to "give everyone an equal chance to participate in our changing world."
But the measure was adopted 5 to 4, with Hill, Lange, Feltz and Nugent in opposition.